More than Joy


I'm not against joy, not at all. But when the prevailing message in the New Age community is to seek joy, to be positive and that your attitude of gratitude will prevail against all ills in your life, I want to throw up my hands and walk away. It feels like if things aren't going well in my life, or, heaven forbid, things are going well but I'm still not joyful or happy, that the problem lies with me; that there is something wrong with me. That I must not be doing it right because I'm still feeling a full range of emotions and I'm not overcome with joy in my life.

Through my work with emotions through DEI ®, I've come to understand (with the help of Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD., the author of How Emotions Are Made), that we all experience emotions differently, and what one person considers to be joy might be something completely different for someone else. This means that there is such a high amount of variability in how each person experiences emotions that a blanket statement that we should all aim to experience joy in our lives sets an unrealistic expectation.

Through working with Karla McLaren, M.Ed., and in my own research and life experience, when I see or hear this focus on joy, I understand that it's a focus on one note, as if a pianist is always trying to hit the high note instead of using the whole keyboard. 

This focus on joy is so unrealistic, like taking a roller coaster and expecting it to stay at the top for the entire ride. Most of our lives are hard work, and yes, we can choose our outlook (or change it), but we can't choose our emotion with any kind of authenticity. Emotions arise from within us, they cannot be pulled down from the shelf and purchased like a candy bar for some instant gratification. They arise naturally, from circumstances and experiences in our lives, and stem from our values and beliefs at the core of our beings.

If you're not experiencing enough joy in your life, you might think to yourself, "I need more of that, where can I get it?" But that's not how joy works, it's not how any emotion works. If you are chasing one emotion and pushing all others to the side in your pursuit, then you are missing out on the meat and meaning of life. Your emotions help you to truly feel what's important to you, to notice what's changing, and what's not working, and what is working, to celebrate your successes, and mine the information from your failures. They help you to recognize when you mess up, and take action to make it right, and remind you not to do it again. 

Why is it then, that so many emotions are put into the shadows? Why is it that anger, grief, depression, sadness, fear, confusion, jealousy, and envy are all pushed to the side, ignored, and repressed? Why is it that these emotions inspire shame instead of action? 

What is it that's so bad about emotions?

For myself, I'm tired of trying to live up to someone else's standard, someone else's expectation. All I can do is listen to how I feel, honor that, and enjoy the ride. The idea that certain emotions are good or bad doesn't do me any good, it only makes me feel bad. So I'm going to take on a differnt New Age philosophy - to live in the moment - and enjoy where I'm at and how I'm feeling right now. Because there is so much to gain from listening to my emotions. It helps me get at the meat of life, and to meet life with all of myself.